Moonlight on Roseville Beach is a roleplaying game about a very specific time and a very specific place, but that specificity makes it extremely relevant to the modern world, and the time in which it has been published. The game is set in a resort town with a primarily LGBTQIA+ population, in a region that is deeply enmeshed with the supernatural. When supernatural effects threaten the local residents, the community has to resolve these threats on their own, without the support of nearby authorities which would likely cause more harm than the supernatural occurrence.
It has become a trope in modern urban fantasy to see small communities that exist at the center of a supernatural nexus, with the locals banding together to face off against the strange things that might lurk in the shadows to threaten them. In these stories, the inhabitants of these towns are often misfits and outcasts that have finally found a home in this quirky location, and they are driven to fight for this place that they have found, where they finally belong. Moonlight on Roseville Beach takes this same premise and applies it to a queernorm setting, where the majority of the people in town are LGBTQIA+ people who have found a place for themselves.
I was not provided a review copy of this game, and my copy comes from backing the crowdfunding campaign that produced the game. I have not had the opportunity to play the game, either as a game facilitator or as a player.
Moonlight on Roseville Beach
R. Rook Studio
Created by Richard Ruane
Written by Richard Ruane, Rob Abrazado, Bendi Barrett, Sharang Biswas, Rick Chia, Alison Cybe, Ezakur, Ethan Harvey, Maxwell Lander, Catherine Ramen, Erin Roberts, Ennis Rook Bashe, Noora Rose, R.J. Ryan, Sean F. Smith, Anne Toole
Additional Content by Preston Leslie, Eric Moore, Logan Rollins, Ramses Wilde-Wolf
Developmental Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading by Jared Sinclair Sensitivity Reading by [Brian Kunde of GaymerX]
Art Direction and Layout by Dai Shugars
Layout and Formatting
The PDF of this game is 162 pages, and is divided up into the following content areas:
- Endpapers (2 pages)
- Credits Page
- Title Page
- Table of Contents (3 pages)
- Artists Dedication, Illustrations Index, and A Note on Representation (2 pages)
- Rook Studio ads (2 pages)
The rest of the book is dedicated to game content. The layout of the book is primarily in two columns, though there are exceptions when the text is detailing subcategories under a primary category, or presenting tables.
The artwork in the book is brought together from public domain LGBTQIA+ pulp novels, and various framing devices, from the single-page short stories that introduce some sections, to the thematic frames of sections like “jobs,” are designed to preserve this aesthetic. This creates a double-edged sword which is addressed in the book itself.
While these pulp novels were often one of the only ways that non-cis or non-hetero people could engage with content that acknowledged their existence, they were also produced in an era where society in general, including the homosexual community, were not expressly inviting to trans, bi, or people of color. The artwork is very white, and no matter how transgressive, still leans heavily towards heteronormative standards of attractiveness in what it portrays.
For the Players
Characters in this game are assumed to be regular residents of Roseville Beach. You aren’t a special monster fighting force, and you probably don’t primarily deal with investigating monsters or dangerous anomalies, even though they do affect life in Roseville Beach on a regular basis. If you’ve read or watched any media that revolves around the “community near a supernatural nexus,” you probably won’t be surprised to find out that even if people have day-to-day regular jobs, some of them also have their own ties to the supernatural. The character types, known as Origin Stories, that characters will choose from include the following:
- The Fresh Face (someone just starting out in life and finding Roseville Beach)
- The Scandalous (someone tied to an important scandal, effectively exiled)
- The Shifter (a local who also happens to have a form of lycanthropy or other shifting condition)
- A Witch (a local who has learned some magic to help them from time to time)
- A Familiar (an animal spirit that outlived their spellcaster, and may be trying to live life inconspicuously, but still knows some magic of their own)
- The Stranger (an alien or supernatural being that has taken human form to live in the community)
Each of these Origin Stories has a special ability native to that character type (like the Fresh Face’s Beginner’s Luck ability that lets them reroll 1s on their dice), two story elements that have related skills and one or more Troubles. Origin Stories like the Fresh Face and the Scandalous will have more than one background with a list of skills associated with them, while the Familiar and the Shifter might have animal forms that give them skill-like abilities, and the Witch, Familiar, and the Stranger may have Words of Power to choose from instead of skills (although these work in a similar manner to skills).
After choosing an Origin Story, there is a list of jobs that each character has to pick from (except familiars–if you’re an animal you may get by on looking cute). Pairs of characters also share a Strange Event between them. This Strange Event is both a story element and the potential for additional mechanical detail. Rolling a die for each of the events determines if encountering that Event produced an additional skill or starts the characters with an additional Scare, Trouble, Ally, or Injury.
Each character also names three Comforts. In downtime, spending time with a Comfort can help to remove a Scare. Allies can provide information or gear that players can’t produce on their own. Once per session, the players can make a Supply Check based on the Supply level of the Bungalow where they live to see if they have access to something. Characters that gain three Injuries are out of action until they can get help, and that may mean rolling a Supply Check to see if they can pay their hospital bill (ouch–like in real life, ouch).
Any time characters perform a risky action, they need to roll dice. You get one die to start, and add a die to the number you are rolling under the following circumstances:
- You aren’t injured or scared
- You have a relevant background
- You have a relevant skill (up to two)
- Good timing
- An Ally his helping
- You are protecting someone from dire consequences
Once you roll the dice, you have to a die that you rolled to each of the following categories:
- Goal (what you are primarily trying to do with the action)
- Injured (if what you are doing is physically dangerous)
- Scared (if what you are doing can cause fear)
Additionally, you can assign dice to the following categories as well:
- Clue (to learn something in the aftermath of your action)
- Trouble (if you want to roll an additional die, you add the die, but must assign one to this category)
If you don’t have enough dice to assign to all of the categories that apply, you can still attempt to do what you are doing, but any category without a die is treated as having a die assigned to it that rolled a 1.
This gives players a lot of freedom to craft the narrative they want from their rolls. For example, they may not use their highest die for their Goal, and only get a partial success, because they don’t want to assign a 3 or lower to the Injured category. Magic is similar in resolution, but there is always a die assigned to Scared, and there is an additional category of Control, measuring how well you keep your magic from running amok.
I love the level of detail and player-directed results from this resolution, but it does mean that either events are going to unfold in slow motion, with players doing a lot of narration and assigning dice, or actions are going to need to be framed in much wider terms. For example, if the PCs are fighting a swamp monster with chainsaws, you don’t want to frame these actions as every single swing of the chainsaw.
There are 23 Guest Stars presented in the book. These are characters designed to be played by someone that isn’t part of the regular gaming group, with a predetermined history, background, skills, and special abilities. These run the gamut from what you would expect the PCs to reflect in the game, to much wilder concepts, like ancient Greek statues returned to life, actors who regularly play monsters in monster movies (and are really good at disguising themselves as monsters), and cryptids that decide to befriend the local kids. My absolute favorite of these is probably The Oblivious Grandma, who doesn’t quite get that she’s vacationing in a town with a large population of LGBTQIA+ people.
It exists in a few other parts of the book as well, but there is some subtle social commentary in many of these guest stars. Not only do they highlight the kind of people whose regular life won’t let them be who they really are, but some of them also highlight the conflicts that arise between people who accept some of the narratives of cis, straight, heteronormative life in the United States of the late 70s, while also trying to connect with the community in Roseville Beach. In many cases, this subtle commentary comes from the acceptance or rejection of disco as a valid form of music.
This section has a lot of utility, not only because it allows for those drop-in, drop-out players that may show up for a session or two, but also gives the group a wide range of potential pre-generated characters for a one-shot, allowing a group to get the game to the table quickly, or with little prep.
For the Game Master
I’m going to throw the discussion of safety into the GM’s section of the review, not because it should be primarily the GM’s responsibility, and not because it is only discussed in this section, but because the GM is the person at the table that is going to be keeping track of a lot of the information surrounding safety. The game itself starts with a discussion on safety and expounds on it in the GM’s section. The game also has a calibration sheet with various topics that can be shared before the game begins.
It’s also hard to talk about the tone of the game without touching on safety because the game makes some assumptions to be both more open, and also to frame a specific kind of story. The LGBTQIA+ community in Roseville Beach is accepting, welcoming, and understanding across the range of queer identities, and to people of color. This is expressly true of the game, even when it may not have been as widely true of similar communities in 1979. But with that greater acceptance of people within the game’s assumed community, this is still America in 1979. The PCs can’t call the police, because they would rather ignore trouble in the community, or address it with violence that would be leveled even against the people most in need of police assistance. There are bigots represented by recurring villains in the setting, and some gay characters appear as antagonists because they can’t accept other queer identities as valid.
In addition to having tables of clues and NPC reactions, the GM section of the book goes into greater detail on some of the locations on Rose Island, where Roseville Beach is located. These locations run the gamut from nearby, more traditional wealthy resort areas, an island prison of an ancient supernatural being and its unlikely jailors, a local gathering of sorcerers that also just happen to be privileged older white men, in what I’m sure isn’t a metaphor for the abuse of power in the pursuit of preserving tradition, and a local cryptic that may be organizing a dangerous cult.
In addition to the plot hooks that present themselves in the descriptions of the locations on the island, there are also five more detailed mysteries that can be used for the game. While all of them present general information about who is in danger, what is causing the danger, why the danger exists, and how to resolve the danger, each adventure presents this information a little differently. For example, one mystery presents two characters, one a likely suspect, and the other the culprit, but doesn’t present the mystery as definitively saying which one is which, but does explain how the mystery proceeds in different directions once the GM decides which one they want to assign to each role.
A Nice Place to VisitBy setting all of that within the LGBTQIA+ community of 1979, applying those tropes tells a much bigger story than “quirky locals deal with the supernatural.”
I really enjoy the resolution mechanic of the game and the degree of narrative control it hands the player, while still working within a mechanical structure. I think having required categories to which dice must be assigned really helps to frame the stakes of what is going on, and I really appreciate how magic feels different, but is mechanically very similar to standard actions. I also appreciate how much information on the setting is given in a concise manner, as well as the copious examples of how mysteries can unfold.
More than some of the mechanical accomplishments, however, I appreciate how the juxtaposition of tone, and the reinforcement of the connection between groups and responsibility to the community says more than it appears to say on the surface.
As much as I love the aesthetic of the old pulp artwork, and no matter how much I appreciate the section discussing the shortcomings of artwork from this period, it’s still a lot of white faces in a book that wants to be welcoming to people of color. That’s not on me to judge, but it is in evidence.
Sometimes when a game does something really well, what it does well can also be its weakness. I find the resolution system very appealing, but I’ve played games that have narratively rewarding mechanics in the past, and sometimes they take some time to really dial in for a whole group, and if you make a mistake and call for a roll that doesn’t really have much in the way of stakes, you’re spending more game time dealing with than if you had someone make a d20 roll for the information you were going to give them anyway.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
This is one of those games where I am inclined to pick up the gauntlet of arguing for games as art. This is a fun game with a simple but robust resolution, playing on well-known tropes. However, by setting all of that within the LGBTQIA+ community of 1979, applying those tropes tells a much bigger story than “quirky locals deal with the supernatural.”
In many cases, some of the more supernatural threats are dealt with in a much simpler manner. While the stakes are life or death, the local river spirit isn’t really the threat, it’s the fact that she’s afraid to introduce herself to the community for how she might be received that leads her to stay in a swamp that is dangerous and gets one of her girlfriends killed.
It’s hard to express, but the game had a big impact on me because it’s saying that living your life, day to day, should be something normal. You should be able to seek out joy. Some of your problems don’t require a machine gun and silver bullets to fix, even when they are supernatural in nature. But if you count on the wrong person for help, you could regret it. If you don’t pull together to figure out what’s going on, nobody else is going to do it for you, which pulls a community together while potentially isolating it further. People that should be on your side sometimes aren’t, because they managed to tie themselves to the people that are more than willing to marginalize you.
Dangers can be amusing to address, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t deadly, and that lighthearted resolution shifts hard from humor to dark comedy, reflecting the hardened shell people have to develop when they have a limited number of people they can turn to that will understand them. This game doesn’t go out of its way to hit you with a baseball bat with the words “important social issues” emblazoned on it, but it still hits you hard just by being unflinchingly what it is.